With people being more health-conscious, low calorie sweeteners are being used more than ever before, with a global sweetener market growing at 2-3% annually. Stevia, a newer sweetener on the market in the United States is the fastest growing sugar substitute, with an estimated $6 billion market.
Stevia is a 100% natural zero calorie sweetener. It is a small perennial herb that belongs to the Asteraceae family of the genus Stevia. Its scientific name is Stevia rebaudiana. It grows in different countries around the globe in tropical climates such as: Japan, China, Thailand, Brazil, and Paraguay. Stevia is now the number one sweetener in Japan, with a market share of over 40%.
Studies have shown that stevia possesses many health and healing benefits that include:
Lowering Blood Sugar and Improving Insulin Sensitivity: It is considered a non-carbohydrate glycoside compound; the inactive glycosides are stored components within the plant and can be activated by hydrolysis. This makes the sugar part to be broken off so that it does not trigger the brain to increase cravings or to cause a blood sugar spike.
The chlorogenic acid reduces the enzymatic conversion of glycogen to glucose, in addition to decreasing absorption of glucose in the gut. Thus, it helps reduce blood sugar levels, and increases liver concentrations of glucose-6-phosphate and of glycogen. Therefore, it does not trigger the same insulin response that sugar and artificial sweeteners do, and it actually improves insulin sensitivity.
Avoiding excess elevation of blood sugar and insulin after meals is perhaps the most important dietary measure you can take to reduce your risk for heart disease, cancer, and other age-related disorders.
Improving Health of the Pancreas: Due to this ability to promote insulin production, in turn, pancreas health is improved. Studies found that the flavanoid, kaempferol, can reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer by 23% – American Journal of Epidemiology.
Reducing Yeast Infections: Since stevia discourages glucose absorption in the blood, it can prevent candidiasis- a yeast infection that flourishes with sugar.
Lowering Blood Pressure: Certain glycosides in stevia extract have been found to dilate blood vessels, increase sodium excretion, and increase urine output. Slightly higher doses can help lower blood pressure.
Since this extract also decreases oxidized LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and lowers high blood pressure, and glucose levels, (all metabolic risk factors), it has great potential for the treatment of metabolic syndrome.
Antibacterial Properties: When used orally, it has shown antibacterial properties. This makes it an ideal ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwashes, as it can aid in fighting cavities and gingivitis. It has shown the same properties when used topically, and has been used as an ointment in the treatment of eczema and acne. Being a non-carbohydrate sweetener, it prevents the growth of Streptococcus mutans bacteria in the mouth.
Aids in Calcium Formation: Some studies, conducted on chicken eggshells, have shown that chickens who are fed a preparation laced with stevia, lay eggs with significantly tougher shells. This suggests that stevia aids in calcium formation, which would be an ideal side effect particularly for women and children with growing bones.
Additional Aid in Weight Loss: It is also possible that stevia may interact with the functions of the hypothalamus and may aid weight loss by curbing the hunger sensation. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain which controls hunger, thirst and fatigue along with its other functions. So, along with its glucose lowering ability, you get this added benefit when trying to succeed with your weight loss goals. Research is still being conducted regarding these additional benefits.
Stevia can be used in many ways since it comes in a liquid and powder form. You can add it to beverages and also use it as a sugar substitute in baking. When using it in recipes, it can be extremely potent so only small doses are needed. It is the only sweetener that has actual health benefits that you cannot receive from any other sweetener out on the market today.